That summer, as we got ready, it all felt like a game. Every morning for an hour, I practiced starting fires with a bow drill. I sprayed a stinky liquid called Tuf-Foot on the soles of my feet. I built deadfall traps from logs and made snares with yarn, catching my husband in doorways throughout the house. I quizzed him: Which birds can you eat? Which reptiles? When I walked in the woods, I saw each plant in a new light: the stalks that could structure a thatch roof, the fibrous stems that could twist into rope. I drank milkshakes to gain weight and studied how to tap rubber.
I got vaccinations for typhoid fever and Japanese encephalitis. “I’m going to be on Naked and Afraid,” I told my doctor.
“What is wrong with you?” he said. Then he called in his nurses to tell them the news.
“Could you do it in the forest here?” one of the nurses asked. “The bugs would kill you.”
“Or the meth dealers,” said the other nurse.
My mom said she wasn’t worried. My dad forwarded me articles about how it’s dangerous to eat slugs.
I even made a plan for moments during the challenge that I didn’t want filmed: I would sing songs with expensive licensing fees so that Discovery couldn’t use the footage. The Beatles were famously pricey, right? If I got diarrhea, I’d sing “Hey Jude” at the top of my lungs.
The white-tablecloth restaurants and the dive bars are closed. The ample buffets that feed America’s tech work force and Las Vegas gamblers have been shut down, along with millions of school cafeterias. On Monday, McDonald’s joined other fast-food companies and closed its restaurants except for delivery and drive-through.
Almost overnight, Americans have had to rethink one of the most elemental parts of their daily lives: food.
In 2015, Parisians were called courageous. Within 48 hours of the November 13 terrorist attacks, locals returned to their neighborhood cafés and bars, resisting any infringement upon their way of life. It was a beautiful example of solidarity and cultural conviction that helped to lift us out of grief. Today, the stringent measures being enforced to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 are sorely testing that same insouciance — as well as the restaurants and bars that are such an intrinsic and vital part of Parisian life.
In my favorite memoir chapter, Raphel visits a writing retreat to construct her own crossword. After much technical discussion of grids and themes and fill, she writes: “I became a mechanical god. I shifted gears; I tuned each letter individually. … I was a chemist, titrating my micro-universe; a lepidopterist, shifting a butterfly’s wing onto a pin.” She was also, in this and only this, a failure. Her puzzle was rejected, as so many are, by The Times. But her affectionate exegesis of this pastime, this passion, this “temporary madness,” succeeds. Like a good crossword, her book challenges us to back away from our assumptions, allows us to think differently and apply ourselves again.
We knew she’d loved
been loved by how she
the anguish of regret
staining her voice